Russell helps FFA students grow into leaders

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Kelly Russell teaches biotechnology and agriscience courses at Perquimans County Middle School. Shown here with a chicken named Ruby, Russell also advises the middle school’s Future Farmers of America chapter.


By Anna Goodwin McCarthy

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Much like seeds growing in the greenhouse at Perquimans County Middle School, Kelly Russell thinks of her students as continually growing and excelling, both in her classes and through their involvement in Future Farmers of America.

For the past three years, Russell has taught biotechnology and agriscience courses at Perquimans County Middle. But prior to starting a career in education, she worked for 20 years as an environmental health specialist with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

As a Perquimans native and lifelong county resident, Russell was enthusiastic about returning to the school she attended as a young girl, and having the opportunity to teach agriculture to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“I have a lot of pride in our school,” said Russell, who shares her recollections of attending the middle school with her students. “They think it’s cool I am teaching where I went to school.”

One of Russell’s goals was to form a Future Farmers of America chapter at the middle school.

To get the FFA chapter up and running, Russell said she applied for a Toolbox for Education grant from Lowe’s. The grant helped purchase a garden shed, build planter boxes and buy needed supplies like soil, tools and seeds.

During the chapter’s first year, she had only two or three students participate. Now after three years, the chapter has grown to 56 students.

“We have really put ourselves on the map and done some really great things this year,” said Russell.

Her FFA students have excelled in several competitions, including a Biotechnology Quiz Bowl. They’ve performed well in various subject areas, including public speaking, livestock and parliamentary procedure.

Russell said FFA is not just for students interested in pursuing a career as a farmer. She says there are benefits for all students who participate.

“It’s really teaching them leadership,” she said.

Russell said members of the middle school FFA have joined with members of Perquimans County High School’s FFA program to operate the Hertford Farmers Market on Church Street near Hardee’s during the summer months. The market is open Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Students sell items like zucchini, squash, eggplant and watermelons they’ve grown in the school greenhouses and garden. Local vendors and growers also can sell their baked goods and produce at the market by paying the FAA a fee. Funds raised through the market benefit the FAA programs at both schools and help pay for their competitions and trips.

Russell said her students’ participation in the market shows their dedication and drive and “gives them ownership and pride.”

“The best part of my job is getting to spend time with my students,” she said. “I really feel blessed I have been able to be a part of their lives.”

There are opportunities for people who want to volunteer to work in the school’s greenhouse, said Russell. Pots, gardening supplies and seeds are also always needed.

Russell earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in environmental science and chemistry from Elizabeth City State University.

She enjoys spending time with her husband, David, and their children, Jackson and Sydney.

For more information about the Hertford Farmers Market, visit the Hertford Farmers Market Facebook page.